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With 'Head, Heart, Hands, and Health': Maine 4-H Club Celebrates 100th Birthday
10/03/2013   Reported By: Jennifer Mitchell

It's the final week of the Fryeburg Fair, signaling the unofficial end of Maine's harvest fair season. There, sheep are being shorn for show, cattle are being washed and blow dried, and hundreds of youth with clover-leaf badges are doing what their parents and grandparents did before them: getting their hand-raised livestock ready for market. It's life as a member of the 4-H Club, and this year 4-H in Maine is celebrating its 100th birthday. As Jennifer Mitchell reports, Maine was an early leader in the agricultural club movement that taught both boys and girls to live by the "Head, Heart, Hands, and Health."

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With 'Head, Heart, Hands, and Health': Maine 4-H Listen

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4-H Club members show off their livestock at the Fryeburg Fair.

Audio from archival film: "It is vacation time at the Garmin Farm, and Patty is busy as usual with the many interests and exciting things that make up a teenager's life. Patty is a member of the 4-H Club, and one of her projects is the care of her goats."

When this 4-H recruitment film was made, Roy Andrews had just signed up. "Probably about 65 years ago I was in 4-H," he says. "And I lived right here in Fryeburg. I grew up as a dairy farmer."

At that time, 4-H was a bit more gender-focused. It wasn't uncommon for girls to concentrate on home economics projects, like sewing dresses or canning tomatoes.

4-h 2Audio from archival film: "The boys especially like electricty, forestry, and the care and operation of the farm machinery."

But today, says Andrews, both boys and girls complete a wider variety of projects than ever before. His own granddaughter, nine-year-old Lydia (right), is showing market lambs for the first time at the Fryeburg Fair, and she's raised them by herself.

"And I know my granddaughter has grown up a lot this summer," Andrews says. "I mean, I've seen a great change in her in a short time."

Whatever kids choose to do, Andrews says the club is a chance for them to learn some life lessons - and a big one is that farming can be hard on the emotions.

"Whenever you get a cow, you always get attached to it," says 16-year-old Lily, of Corinth. "We cried and cried and cried."

Lily and her sister, 15-year-old Abby, are brushing a pair of steers that will soon go to market. Both girls have been through the process five times before of acquiring a small calf, raising it by hand, and then auctioning it off at the fair each fall.

4-h 4"You do need to sell this cow for meat," Lily says, "and it's not hard as it was the first time, 'cause you put it in the back of your mind: 'I have to get rid of this cow.'"

The girls also have to learn to manage farm finances. "There is a lot of money that comes out of our pocket for this, like the grain - we have to pay at least $30 a week for grain," Abby (lower right) says.

"That's along with all the sawdust, and the water from the wells and all that stuff," Lily (right) adds.

4-H in Maine started out as The Potato Club in 1913, in Scarborough. It wasn't until a year later that an act of Congress established a federal framework that led to the group we know now as 4-H. In Maine, enrollment grew from just a few dozen in 1913 to more than 9,000 by the end of World War I. Today, the group has about 30,000 kids involved in Maine alone.

"We still have kids that are raising animals, but we also have kids that are using submersible robots to identify where invasive milfoil is," says Lisa Phelps, the 4-H program administrator for the state of Maine. Today, she says, a 4-H kid is as likely to study troubled ecosystems or the science of wind power as he is to focus on production.
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But Phelps says that doesn't mean the mission has changed, as the goal from the very beginning was to help plant new knowledge into old homesteads by teaching kids the latest science.

But for vintage 4-Hers like Roy Andrews, who is now the president of the Fryeburg Fair, the club is still mostly about farming.

"The future of farming is in our young people" he says, "and a good part of these youngsters will continue to farm at some level. There's a lot of them that won't, but they'll have a farm experience, and, of course, they'll know about where their food comes from."

Photos:  Nick Woodward


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